George Lloyd (1913-1998)
Symphony in A (No.1) (1932)
Symphony No.2 (1933, rev. 19832)
Symphony No.3 (1933)
Symphony No.4 (1945-1946)
Symphony No.5 (1947-1948)
Symphony No.6 (1956)
Charade (1968)
Overture ‘John Socman’ (1951)
Albany Symphony Orchestra (Symphonies 1, 4), BBC Philharmonic (other works) / George Lloyd
rec. 1986-1992, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK; 1987-1990, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, USA
Lyrita SRCD.2417 [4 CDs: 266]

The good news for admirers of George Lloyd is that Lyrita and the Lloyd Society have reached an agreement. Lyrita has taken over the sale and hire of all the scores held by the Lloyd Society as well as recordings conducted by Lloyd in the 1990s. This ‘signature edition’ will initially arrive in two big boxes that contain his entire symphonic canon, all twelve symphonies, and this is the opening salvo, symphonies one to six with a couple of smaller pieces for good measure.

These BBC Philharmonic and Albany Symphony (Nos. 1 and 4) recordings were made between 1986 and 1992 in New Broadcasting House, Manchester and in Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY and were excellent in every way. Old hands will know that Lyrita was responsible for bringing Lloyd to wider notice with its recordings of Symphonies 4, 5 and 8 in the early 1980s; Edward Downes conducted the Philharmonia (review). Indeed, that’s how I first heard Lloyd’s music – the slow movement of No.8 played a record shop in Soho in London. Since then, Downes’ premiere recordings of Symphonies 6 and 7, made in 1980 and 1979 respectively, have also appeared on Lyrita (review).

The Albany/Conifer recordings offered their own different couplings so that, for example, No.1 was coupled with No.12 by Albany. Here things are adjusted so that things run on largely chronological lines, though I’m not sure why Lyrita starts CD 1 with Symphony No.2 and not the First. No.1 which was revised nearly 50 years later (in which version we hear it), shows that Lloyd, not yet 20, was a thoroughly proficient orchestrator who made vivid use of all orchestral sections in this intriguing twenty-five-minute structure. The first section is an Introduction and Variations where he handles horns and winds especially well and one can hear some hints of Wagner. The central section is quite filmic in its intensity – Andante con fervore – whilst the finale offers a fugal start that cleverly coalesces the opening section’s thematic material. Full of joviality, the music gradually screws itself up for progressively vigorous and succulent quasi-operatic splendour. 

No.2 was composed in 1933 and like its predecessor revised in 1982. It’s orchestrated with even more flair than No.1 – listen to the percussion and brass – and has an especially lovely string cantilena in the Largo second movement where the solo violin reveals another facet of his astute skills. The Alla marcia is tuneful and vigorous and it was with this movement that the first performance of the work, given in March 1934 by the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra, ended, though all four movements had been written. The finale offers a fitting conclusion with chorales repeatedly denied by the piccolos until one finally emerges fitfully, though the music ends quietly. This symphony appeared the same year in which Walton composed his own First Symphony, with its finale as yet unwritten – strangely it contained an Andante con malincona, the same indication as Lloyd’s finale. Coincidence?

The Third Symphony followed in the same year, 1933, in a burst of symphonic creativity. Its terse thematic writing is angular and energetic, brassy, and passionate, and full of those characteristic ‘floating’ Lloydian paragraphs that make his music so distinctive. By contrast the central movement is serene, tinged with Iberian colour, with strings launched over chugging rhythms, laced with percussion interjections, the winds later flecked and decorating the Spanish-sounding theme. Brassy fanfares ignite the finale, a movement of energy and excitement.

Charade was composed in 1968 and shares disc space with Symphony No.3. It’s subtitled ‘Scenes from the 60s’ and ostensibly pokes fun at the culture of the time, including the counter-culture, in six movements called Student Power, LSD, March-In, Flying Saucers, Pop Songs and Party Politics. Strangely, this isn’t the flimsy rag bag of whimsy you’d expect from those titles, each movement is robust and free of pastiche – there are mocking elements, certainly, such as the cussed fugato of the first with wind mockery, the strikingly sonorous Flying Saucers. Perhaps the most obvious is the last with its pomposo elements complete with a triumphant (or is it ironic?) Waltonian march. That said, it’s not one of my favourite Lloyd works – it’s too occasional and lacks his essential self. 

Symphony No.4 offers the first of the central canon of Lloyd’s symphonies and dates from 1945-46, composed after the traumatic incidents of the war in which his ship’s own malfunctioning torpedo ruptured its oil tank and many men were killed outright or drowned. Lloyd himself nearly drowned. It can be useful to compare the performances of Downes with the Philharmonia with Lloyd and the Albany Symphony in 1987 but it might be better to recollect the words of the composer Ronald Stevenson when he wrote about the work’s originality, of how ‘many another composer has employed complex notation to achieve nothing as original’. Downes’ and Lloyd’s recordings of the symphony’s inner movements are almost identical in terms of timings but Downes takes the outer movements more athletically, cutting a minute in each movement from the composer’s own timings. What matters more is the exploration of the symphony’s moods – the first movement’s brassy moments and near-stasis alike, its lissom wind writing. The slow movement offers a play of iciness and remarkable, almost Mascagni-like warmth – opulently orchestrated, filmically intense but securely symphonic. By contrast, the scherzo is almost balletic and richly decorated and the finale is bedecked with rich March themes, tuneful and catchy – ‘popular without being plebian’ as Stevenson noted – that includes brief Sibelian moments. It’s the first of Lloyd’s great symphonies. Disc 3 also includes the overture to his opera John Socman, fizzy and charming with a touch of Till Eulenspiegel about it.

Before discussing the final disc let’s touch on possible influences on Lloyd. Foremost is the world of Italian opera in its most opulent and lyric form, primarily one feels, Puccini, and then there are disparate influences ranging from Berlioz to Walton, from Sibelius to Ravel and Stravinsky (in places), and Holst. Lloyd never sounds like any of them , though, his great skill being one of absorption of influence in the context of his own deeply personal compositional style.

Symphony No.5 followed in 1951. It’s a very big, nearly hour-long work in five movements. There’s not that much difference between Downes and Lloyd in this work. The wind writing is distinctive, his tunes are eventful and laced with memorable orchestration, and once past the rather Ravelian opening the music assumes its ‘pastorale’ element. Gradually, incrementally via the Corale and Rondo – music of great clarity and purpose – and the Lamento, the music darkens, the full orchestra being reserved for this movement. Expression here is withdrawn, powerfully threnodic, almost despairing. Stravinskian elements animate the finale, and the music uses Lloyd’s full resources of rhythm, counterpoint and animation to generate a grandiose, triumphant close.  

Downes and Lloyd take precisely the same overall tempi but differ movement by movement in the Sixth Symphony, composed in 1956. Downes is quicker in the opening but Lloyd is faster in the central slow movement. This is Lloyd’s nakedly neo-classical symphony, with some decidedly Waltonian figures, and something of a retrenchment from the big five-movement Fifth. One feels him revelling in lighter textures, lighter rhythms and lighter feelings. The opening is crisp and though there are shadows they’re fleeting. The slow movement is one of his sublimely beautiful ones which Lloyd, as noted – and like many another composer-conductor – conducts with linear directness without however minimising its expressive richness. There’s an open-air ebullience and freshness in the finale with a frolicsome, unbridled feel.

The first six symphonies offer a gamut of feelings expressed in musical language of rich colour, intrepid rhythms, firm and cogent structures that are strong in feeling but resilient, and sometimes stoic in the face of adversity and always beautifully orchestrated.        

There are two booklets. The first is 24-pages and contains full track and recordings details and an extensive and wide-ranging essay by Paul Conway that cites source material including Lloyd’s own comments in LP sleeve notes and articles in Tempo and Radio 3 magazine, amongst others. The other booklet is ‘A Life in Pictures’, an eight-page largely black and white sequence of photographs that trace the composer from a young man in braces and tie conducting Iernin in 1935 through his years as a Royal Marines bandsman and the Moustache Years (c. 1960-72 – the moustache was a bit of a monster) through to the familiar shaven upper lip and silvery swept-back coiffure of the later years.

Inevitably there are losses. Conifer was good at sleeve design and I regret losing the Edvard Munch that adorned the cover of No.2 and the Hokusai-like artwork on the LP of Symphony 4.

I wrote to Lloyd once asking him about his then-unrecorded Violin Concertos and he replied offering the hope that they’d be recorded, as indeed they were. They will be forthcoming in this series as will much else. Next, though, will be the second symphonic tranche. Those of us who have admired Lloyd’s music for many years will welcome the consolidation of his legacy in this way and will hope it stimulates more performances and perpetuates his name even more.     

Jonathan Woolf

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music